Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, believed humans have a tendency to revert to childlike behavior as a way to cope with trauma.
While I’m not a psychologist, nor do I endorse all of Freud’s beliefs, I think he made a valid point. We’re seeing this regression play out in different ways throughout the course of the collective trauma that is the COVID-19 pandemic.
For some, the change is subtle. The New York Times reported that folks are stocking up on Pop-Tarts, Lunchables and other nutritionally unsound snacks from childhood in their search for comfort.
While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Tastykakes this quarantine, I’m finding the most comfort in the childlike activity of watching cartoons.
There has been no shortage of great adults-only cartoons in the past few years: “Bojack Horseman” and “Big Mouth,” to name just two. But I’m not talking about those types of shows.
Instead, my fiance and I dove headfirst into the Cartoon Network series “Steven Universe,” which ended its six-year run in 2019. There also are a movie and a sequel limited series that just wrapped up in March. (We’re only on season two, so no spoilers, please.)
It’s wholly family friendly: the titular Steven is an affable goof with a rock-solid moral compass. He’s half human, half Crystal Gem, which is a superhero from another planet with magical powers. In the early seasons, we watch Steven stumble through learning how to harness his special abilities.
There also is no shortage of fantastic original music, from little ditties Steven sings with his washed-up rockstar dad to “Love Like You,” the tender track that closes each episode. The show is whimsical, earnest and just downright sweet.
It’s also completely unlike anything else I watch on television.
As a kid, I never completed a single Harry Potter book because I found them too unrealistic. I had a deeper appreciation for memoirs and historically accurate novels, which suggests I was always destined for a life in journalism.
My tolerance for fantasy increased slightly with age, but not much. So why am I attaching so strongly to this pastel-colored fairytale?
Each 11-minute episode affords me a few cozy moments of feeling like a kid. I’m fully immersed in Steven’s world, watching him develop confidence in his superpowers while simultaneously navigating life as a somewhat-normal boy. There are so many great characters — particularly, strong female characters — and the stories they are able to tell in just 11 minutes astound me.
The show helps me decompress from the day. It has become part of my bedtime routine: I brush my teeth, moisturize, hop into bed and watch Steven and his hijinks. And even though I work at a newspaper, I make a concerted effort to not consume any news during the last chapter of my day. It’s my version of a bedtime story. We should all be finding little moments of escape like that during the pandemic.
It’s funny that so much of the show is Steven learning to harness his powers in the face of unprecedented challenges. Isn’t that what we’re all doing now? We’re figuring out what ways we can be most helpful as we combat something none of us have ever experienced.
He’s trying his very best, and so are we. That’s all anyone can do — Crystal Gem or otherwise.
Jenelle Janci is an LNP's Life and Culture Team Leader. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.